Wednesday, 29 November 2017

GUEST BLOG: How enterprise helps to build an industrial future on an industrial past

Dr Plato Kapranos
Senior University Teacher, Materials Science and Engineering

In March 2017, I was the recipient of an Enterprise Educators UK Richard Beresford Bursary that allowed me to explore different ways of ‘embedding enterprise in the curriculum’ at the Universities of Sheffield in South Yorkshire and Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. My investigation involved two cities, both in regions steeped in industrial heritage; and two universities steeped in innovative approaches to teaching, clearly defined social/civic responsibility, and two views on enterprise.

Frequently, enterprise means different things to different people and is often confused with entrepreneurship. (The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) makes a clear distinction: enterprise is “the application of creative ideas and innovations to practical situations”; entrepreneurship is “the application of enterprise skills specifically to creating and growing organisations in order to identify and build on opportunities”.) This ambiguity can colour the way students who are not necessarily interested in starting new businesses perceive the relevance of enterprise to their academic, personal and professional prospects.

A civic history, ever in the making

Yorkshire region, coloured green; two industrial chimneys; man with coat, flat cap and walking stick. The word "Yorkshire" in ALL CAPS is below the image.
The University of Sheffield was founded by the city in 1905, and has maintained a close relationship with the Sheffield City Region, as reflected in partnerships beyond the University. The University is committed to considering its responsibilities as an institution to the wider public, and focuses on the ways in which its activities can positively affect the wider society.

Nevertheless, The University firmly remains rooted in the City of Sheffield and South Yorkshire area, with infrastructure renewal developments such as The Diamond, the flagship Research Centres of the wider AMRC development, Factory of the Future, and the new Royce Institute.

The University of Sheffield works to ensure that all its students are effectively equipped, both in their specialisation as well as in transferable skills, and recognises the importance of employability to their education, so that placements and work based or work orientated learning forms a crucial part of this process. There is focus on graduate attributes that has led to an expansion in skills development for enterprise, entrepreneurship and employability, including developments both within and outside the curriculum.

Enterprise at Sheffield is defined as “a set of capabilities that enable individuals to spot opportunities, generate ideas, and do something about them”. Enterprising people get things done and make things happen. Enterprise education develops students’ capabilities to succeed in being enquiring, deep learners, equipped to face the challenges of their future careers. There is increasing integration taking place as we move towards considering our curriculum design and assessment at the programme, rather than individual module, level, and more and more interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary learning with projects such as the Global Engineering Challenge, Engineering: You’re Hired!, and various Doctoral Training Centres across the institution.

Industrial links have always been a part of the University’s mainstream activities but these have now moved to a new level with the expansion of industrially-focused research activities across the University and the AMRC, while still keeping up with important ‘blue skies’ research.

Coexist. Cooperate. Collaborate.

Basque region, coloured in green; man wearing beret and work shirt; "Basque" in ALL CAPS below the image.
Mondragon University is part of Mondragon Corporation,
composed of more than 74,000 people, 261 companies and cooperatives. Its business philosophy is reflected in its values, of Cooperation, Participation, Social Responsibility, and Innovation, contributing to the transformation of society through the generation of knowledge and its transfer to industry. This close relationship results in intimate knowledge of the needs and demands of industry – allowing training that guarantees increased employability of graduates into the specific sectors most relevant to their skills, knowledge, and aspirations.

Mondragon University was founded in 1997 from a collection of co-operatives that dates back to 1943. The university is run on a cooperative model, where every member of staff has a stake as it is jointly owned by its staff. The close-knit structure of Basque society and widespread industrial cooperatives led me to make some interesting observations on the way the university operates and also on the development of its curricula.

There is clear focus on the practical training of students that feeds into the wider cooperatives and beyond. Although the cooperative ethos and links are clearly influential, 40% of the technology transfer income comes from companies outside the cooperative movement. The university sees itself as the main agent in making industry competitive. Almost a third of its income is from technology and knowledge transfer fees, meaning that their research has to be focused and has to generate ‘return on investment’ – and that does not leave much room for blue-sky research; nevertheless the staff in general are very happy to see the results of their research being put into good use by industry.

The economy in this region, not unlike others, is facing many challenges and social pressures – such as a growing ageing population, intense competition due to globalisation, employability, to name a few. As a response, the university convened a group of stakeholders including, staff, educationalists, alumni, industrialists and others from the local public and generated a ‘professional profile’ for their students (similar to our own Sheffield Graduate Attributes).

The university has created a curriculum that is linked to employability and professionalism, practicality, and applicability.
Students are encouraged to be proactive agents of their own learning, rather than passive learners, and that, of course, signals a change on the teaching staff from transferring knowledge to a role that is more directing and guiding students through the learning process. Students are taught to be autonomous and responsible for their learning through team work, projects, decision making, negotiation and communication in the running of projects; problem solving; and case studies applied to professional environments. In addition there is an interdisciplinary approach taken across knowledge areas, with links that makes students accustomed to the complexity of relationships in the real world.

Mondragon University tries to closely follow changes in society and gives its courses a practical orientation through the extensive use of industrial placements. Another innovation is part-time work being available to students while they are pursuing their studies in ALECOP, a main producer of educational-technical resources in Spain. This not only provides students with a source of important income to finance their studies, but is also a source of valuable complementary training in technical and occupational skills. Their summary of the student profile is one that has good Technical Skills, (knowledge and know-how), Personal Skills (being aware of who they are), and Social Skills (knowing how to coexist and cooperate).

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Dr Plato Kapranos & Dr. Jokin Lozares Abasolo, Mondragon University
Dr. Jokin Lozares Abasolo (Mondragon
University), and Plato
There are similarities and differences between the two Universities that provide us with opportunities to learn from each other’s experiences and activities. Clearly we cannot transplant the particular social structures that have made the cooperative movement in Mondragon a successful model, but there is no reason why we cannot be enterprising and absorb parts of it that might be applicable and useful to the University of Sheffield and South Yorkshire.

In the same token, our Mondragon colleagues can observe our University’s enterprising activities, the restructuring of the South Yorkshire economy, and the research, teaching and learning strategies and directions we have taken. And in so doing, they can morph and mould them to their own particular circumstances. Such an exchange holds great potential benefit of our respective societies.


[Thanks to Tahira Resalat for the drawings.]

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